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Miss. Flood Project May Be Revived

By Tommy Horton

The battle lines are about to be drawn again in the South Delta, and this time the final decision on the embattled Yazoo Pump Project might be decided by a judge.

Recent heavy rains in the region have once again caused serious flooding in backwaters and called attention to a problem that was supposed to have been resolved by a flood control project first approved by Congress in 1941.

This project was initially proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a way to protect farmland and wildlife from excessive flooding on the backwaters of the Mississippi River’s tributaries. Specifically, the area is near the confluence of the Yazoo and Big Sunflower Rivers north of Vicksburg, Miss.

After decades of negotiating between the Mississippi Levee Board and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA vetoed the entire project in August of 2008.

Responding To EPA

EPA used its authority under the Clean Water Act to “deny using waters as a disposal site for fill material when the agency determines it will have an unacceptable effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife or recreational areas.”

In response to the EPA action, the Mississippi Levee Board may bring a lawsuit against EPA within the next few months, according to Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Levee Board.

He believes there is a provision in the Clean Water Act that allows for an exemption from an EPA veto – specifically when a project has already been reviewed, authorized and received funding from Congress.

Current water levels in the backwater area have reached a level of nearly 92 feet, flooding more than 100,000 acres of farmland along with 200,000 acres of trees for wildlife habitat.

Nimrod is convinced that if a judge hears the case, proponents of the pump project have an excellent chance of winning.

“I think the decision could come down in a year and a half,” he says. “We don’t believe EPA had the legal authority to veto this project.”

Cost factors also weigh heavily in the $220 million project. Nimrod says more than $70 million was for large scale reforestation to “appease the environmental groups.”

Economic Impact On Farmers

Nobody understands the economic impact of backwater flooding more than South Delta farmers.

Clifton Porter farms 1,300 acres of soybeans and corn in the area and believes the pump project makes perfect sense when viewed objectively.

“We did everything we could to work with EPA on this,” he says. “I really feel betrayed. We showed them how the flooding affected wildlife, trees and our farmland. That’s why I’m hopeful this lawsuit will give us a chance.”

Flooding definitely has an effect on wildlife, according to Trey Cooke, executive director of Delta Wildlife, a Mississippi organization focused on restoration, enhancement and management of wildlife habitats in the state.

“It’s unnatural for wildlife to be forced to contend with this type of flooding,” he says. “Right now, turkey populations have been decimated in the Yazoo back-water area due to consecutive flood events. This is a prime example of how flooding affects more than just agriculture.”

Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or thorton@onegrower.com.

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